Better to know which side we’re on

Published 11:17pm Wednesday, August 8, 2012

“Hank, you left us hanging on the Sept. 18 Constitutional Referendum. You kept asking in Sketches, Which side are you on? However, you did not tell us which side you were on.” My friend was talking about Sketches No. 1310.

I did not say which side I was on because I wanted to develop my final position with those I work and struggle with. The most critical of these are the many leaders in Alabama New South Coalition. As President Emeritus, I did not want to be going one way, with the organization going another. We needed to collectively decide our position with every voice being heard.

I know which side I am on. Now, I know which side we are on. I know because we worked it through on a massive conference call where each ANSC member could call in, ask questions, voice their opinion and cast their vote.

In case you are asking “what referendum?” Well, I am talking about the vote of the people of Alabama to decide whether roughly $146 million a year for three years will be withdrawn from the Alabama Trust Fund, the state’s savings account, to fund general government until Alabama’s economy and finances improve.

Alabama started its savings account in 1982 as the Alabama Heritage Trust Fund with the money from oil and gas leases. Instead of spending the money as it came in, people voted in a Constitutional referendum to place the funds in a Trust. In 1985, the Alabama Trust Fund was established by Constitutional Amendment to save additional monies from oil and gas leases and royalties. The two funds merged in 2001 with the name Alabama Trust Fund. Now, the money can only be withdrawn from the Trust by constitutional referendum.

On two occasions, Alabamians voted to take money from its savings account. In 2002 and again in 2008, we voted to allow money to be withdrawn from the savings account when public education funds are in a crunch. However, those are loans that must be paid back. In 2000, we voted to divert money that would normally be going into our savings account. These diverted funds were for economic development and capital improvements. These funds did not have to be paid back. Each time we allowed money to be withdrawn from the Alabama Trust Fund we moved Alabama forward.

Even after these transactions, we still have roughly $2.5 billion in our savings account, and funds are still coming in the Trust. If we vote for the Sept. 18 referendum to withdraw $146 million a year for three years, we will still have more than $2.5 billion in the Trust Fund in four or so years from now.

I view a savings account as a safety net for hard times. I view a savings account as an umbrella for rainy days. I view a savings account as an investment for the future. Let’s see if this proposed referendum meets these tests.

There is no doubt that times are hard. First, the economy is bad and has been bad for several years. Second, Alabama’s general government budget is probably smaller per capita than any state in the Union. And the budget is getting even smaller. Third, we cannot provide even basics for our people. Yes, these are really hard times.

There is no doubt that these are rainy days. In fact, we have a fiscal storm, with not just money woes pouring down on us but thunder, lightning and whirling winds. The storms are battering our state, putting our health care, hospitals, nursing homes, senior citizens, children, small town life, jobs, economy, etc. at great risk. These are rainy days.

There is no doubt that the monies provided by the referendum are investments for the future. They will keep hospitals open in smaller cities, nursing homes open throughout our society, greater health care available to millions. Tens of thousands of jobs protected and stop our economy from sliding back. Yes, this is a great investment and we will still have our savings account.

If you have not determined my position by reading on, as well as between the lines, let me be absolutely clear: I strongly support the constitutional referendum set for Sept. 18. I hope you will also strongly support it as well. Let’s do this for us, our children, and our children’s children.

Epilouge — I can make up my mind anytime because it’s my mind. However, I only lead myself. When I make up my mind with others, we lead lots of others. It’s far better to know which side we are on than which side I am on.

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